Charles Leclerc made an error at turn 11 on lap 18 that ended his pursuit of a French Grand Prix win and maybe a critical blow to his World Driver’s Championship campaign. Max Verstappen did what World Champions do: make no minimal mistakes and gain maximum points. And despite not living up to lofty expectations, George Russell ambushed Sergio Perez after a virtual safety car, securing Mercedes’ first double podium of 2022. Perez finished the French Grand Prix a disappointing fourth, bringing a conclusion to a disappointing weekend where Checo never seemed truly on top of things.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was the true star of the French Grand Prix weekend. Sainz was mega rapid all weekend with a new Ferrari power unit in the back of his F1-75. Despite the impending grid penalties, Sainz participated in qualifying three to help Leclerc secure pole position. Sainz went on to drive through the field, overcome a 5-second penalty for an unsafe release, and engage Perez in a tense and dramatic back-and-forth battle.
If it wasn’t for Ferrari’s relatability issues, Sainz’s form this past weekend would have had him in contention for pole position and the French Grand Prix win.
Track limits violations were the story of Q1, most notably with Haas’ Mick Schumacher, who had a top 6 lap time deleted. Schumacher had a rough weekend spinning in practice two, then colliding with Alfa Romero’s Zhou Guanyu during the French Grand Prix.
Q2 featured Sainz topping the timing charts nine-tenths of a second ahead of Verstappen. The four cars eliminated in Q2 were separated by four-tenths of a second, speaking to how tight the midfield battle has been. Throughout the first two qualifying sessions, Sainz and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen had a qualifying battle over who started the French Grand Prix last, both having taken power unit grid penalties.
The story of Q3 was if Ferrari could work as a team and use the slipstream to give Leclerc pole position or if either Red Bull could outpace Leclerc’s Ferrari. Ferrari’s single-lap pace held up and Leclerc secured another pole position, his seventh in 2022.
How the Race Was Won
The story of how the race was one is similar to the story of the season: Ferrari had the one-lap pace advantage but through a mistake, poor communication/strategy, or a failure of some sort, Ferrari lost the lead and valuable points in the World Championships. Leclerc even had an excellent reaction time when the lights went out leaving him free and in the lead around the first left-hand turn.
After Red Bull pit Verstappen on lap 16, triggering the undercut, Leclerc was pushing the F1-75 around turn 11 on lap 18, when the rear of the car overrated into oversteer and a spin. Leclerc wedged his front wing under the tire barrier, ending his day on lap 18. Verstappen took the lead during the safety car period and was never threatened by Hamilton in second place.
George Russell and Carlos Sainz were the late race stories for their on-track battles, with Russell taking third from Perez, and Sainz scoring the fastest lap, receiving a fifth-place finish. Over the French Grand Prix weekend, Mercedes never reached the highly hyped and optimistic performance expectations they had for the W-13, yet when the French Grand Prix finished, there were two Mercedes drivers on the podium. Reliability matters. And Ferrari needs to take note or start asking for advice.
An Understated Weekend of Success for an Ol’ Campaigner
When we last heard from our hero, the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner was teaching the kids how to drive and trying to find every small advantage he could to achieve the most points he could. Fernando Alonso started his weekend by adding another chapter to his character during pre-race media interviews. Alonso is a Wiley, sly, and crafty fellow, whose play on French nationalism and his home team’s race was a performance entirely at home in satire.
Alonso then went on to qualify 7th: save for McLaren’s Lando Norris, best of anyone not driving for Ferrari, Mercedes, or Red Bull. The Ol’ Campaigners race craft was on display at the start: Alonso had a great start and was closing in on Norris quickly, then opting for the slower inside like around turn 1, keeping him out of trouble and giving him more traction through turn two, propelling him into P5.
The Wiley Ol’ Campaigner then placed his car in the middle of the racing line, making his Alpine wider than the track limits. Then, Alonso employed a favorite defensive tactic – drive to preserve his tires, while the chasing cars burn their tires out. Alonso spent the better part of the French Grand Prix keeping both McLarens behind him. Only Sainz in the Ferrari was able to push Alonso down the grid.
For an understated but successful weekend, the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner added depth to his growing legend, proving once again that Fernando Alonso might be getting older (he’s 41 now) but he’s still one of the most significant autosports competitors of all time and worth the price of admission to Formula 1.
Up Next – The Hungaroring and the Hungarian Grand Prix
We have one more round of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championships before the annual summer break and “silly season”: The Hungarian Grand Prix. The Hungaroring is a Formula 1 calendar staple, compared to Monaco (in terms of downforce), and a giant karting track (where one corner feeds into the next). A twisty track should suit the Ferrari’s characteristics, however, they’ll need reliability and a mistake-free weekend: things Ferrari hasn’t had in 2022.
The Hungarian Grand Prix takes place from July 29th – July 31st, 2022.